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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Beauty and Personal Care: My Favorites


Today, I'm going to write about one of my favorite things: SKIN CARE (Men, don't be scared off by the somewhat girly nature of this post- you might find some useful products.)

I have to admit I'm a skin care junkie. My guilty pleasure is reading beauty forums and blogs and learning about the latest products and gadgets that people are using to keep themselves looking good. I have a "wandering eye" when it comes to new products (maybe I should've been a beauty blogger instead!)

Beauty junky tendencies aside, my somewhat frugal nature reigns me in and keeps me from blowing all my cash on skin care. I'll still spend money on a good product, but I like to balance it out with things that work and don't cost a lot. I also concoct some of my skin care myself. I like a "high/low" mix of skin care. Now that I've settled into a consistent product routine and am getting results that I like, I'm going to go ahead and share my favorites.

Preface: My skin has always had issues. When I was younger, it was oily and congested and I'd get cysts that left purple marks that took forever to fade. Now that I'm in my mid 30's, it's not as oily and I'm not getting cysts anymore (thank you, Primal diet!) but I've seen changes in texture and some fine lines are showing up, so my main issues now are the first signs of aging and dehydration and I still deal with congested skin.
I do occasionally get very minor breakouts, but they're so much easier to deal with and heal much faster. Overall, I'm way happier with my skin than I've ever been and I can get away with less makeup than ever.
I have pretty strict criteria as far as ingredients go. I don't like synthetic crap and I don't like artificial perfumes. So, here are my favorite natural and effective products:



Cleanser:
Even though I have slightly combo skin that gets congested, it also gets very dehydrated, so I can't stand it getting dried out when I wash it. Red Flower Lymphatic Phytopower Sea Cleanser and Mask solved that problem! This stuff rocks when your skin is all dried out in the winter (or when you have over-chlorinated water like I do!) You can use it as a cleanser or a moisturizing mask. It's pricey, but it's also a huge bottle, so, per ounce, the price is actually reasonable for such a great product.

I used to despise bar soap for my face until I tried NCN Pro Rhassoul Cleansing Bar. It was getting rave reviews on my favorite forum. It's very gentle and leaves skin feeling soft and not dry, yet it also helps clear breakouts. I buy a couple and keep one in the shower to use for my whole body.

A few times a week, I like to do a deep cleanse using a variation on the Oil Cleansing Method. I first learned about the OCM from a friend who found that massaging her face with oil and then steaming it with a hot wash cloth cleared her skin up like nothing else could.
My variation, which is less drying and more skin softening, consists of a mix of raw honey (I like the solid, opaque kind) and castor oil (about a 1:4 ratio of honey to castor oil). It sounds odd, but it'll take makeup off (remove any eye makeup first, though) and pull gunk out of your pores. Massage the mix into your skin and use a tapping motion to help draw out impurities, then steam with a hot wash cloth and wipe clean.


Toner:
I'm old fashioned when it comes to toner. I like Humphrey's Witch Hazel. It's very soothing and super cheap. I like Humphrey's much better than Thayer's (the other classic witch hazel brand), which has an odd foamy quality to it.
I like to add a little rosewater to it and if you have very dry skin, a few drops of glycerin can adjust the astringency. You can also add a few drops of essential oils if you like, especially if you don't care for the refreshing/medicinal smell of witch hazel (which I happen to like). Guys, this is great as an aftershave to soothe razor burn.

Teas like green tea or chamomile tea also make great toners for sensitive skin.


Moisturizer:
For my moisturizer, I like extra virgin avocado oil. There are lots of great oils and different oils work for different skin types but avocado really stands out for me. Once it sinks in, it's not greasy and it does a wonderful job of hydrating and plumping fine lines while preventing oiliness (so, it's good for dry, combo AND oily/acne prone skin), it calms redness and it's very rich in collagen promoting nutrients. It also has a certain degree of natural sunscreen properties. You can read about the unique and wonderful benefits of avocado oil HERE.
Olivado is my favorite brand by far (it has the finest texture). The key to using oils as facial moisturizers is to make an emulsion: put a few drops of oil in your palm and add a little water (or toner) and mix. Then, massage into damp skin. This makes all the difference in oil absorption and helps skin to retain moisture.

If you want a more luxurious face oil option, Red Flower Essential Omega Fresh Berry Oil is great. It smells divine and is loaded with antioxidants (it also contains my beloved avocado oil). A little goes a long way, so again, it's pricey but it's going to last you forever (I end up using it on my neck, arms and d├ęcolletage just to use it all up!)

Several nights a week, I use NCN Pro All Trans-Retinol (I use the 2%). This is the main anti-aging component of my skin care routine. Retinol, a Vitamin A derivative, is one of those great, proven ingredients that builds collagen over time and it can really help keep the skin clear, but it can also cause dryness and flaking and it realistically takes at least 6 months to start seeing major benefits.
It's not as potent as the stronger retinoid class of products like Retin-A/Tretinoin, but that's fine with me, since I get flaky enough with retinol. This formula, however, is magical. I don't get flaky, it seems to calm my skin and heal any little breakouts in record time (as well as the marks they leave behind) and it is gentle enough to use around my eyes. It has also faded an annoying patch of melasma on my forehead and my forehead lines are lessened. My skin has vastly improved since I added this product a few months ago.

For my eye cream, I like something to help with puffiness (my upper lids get puffy overnight) and I'm really liking Skin Apotheke's Rejuvenating Eye Creme. It's light and really does help prevent overnight puffiness. I only recently started using it, so it's too early to tell if it will do anything for the dark under eye circles I'm blessed with (one of the side effects of having fair, thin skin).


Exfoliation/Masks/Treatments:

I try not to over exfoliate, since, for me, it leads to overly sensitive skin. I use my Clarisonic Mia about every other day when I'm cleansing at night. It really is a nifty gadget and worth asking for if you have a birthday coming up;)
Microfiber washcloths are also great for exfoliating. Just don't get too rough with them.

Once a week, I like to smear canned pumpkin on my face and let it sit about 10 minutes. Pumpkin enzyme are wonderful exfoliants and will leave your skin looking healthy and glowing. I think it helps if you keep the pumpkin moist as it's on your face. If you have very sensitive skin, start with only a few minutes to test it out.

Raw Honey makes a good healing/soothing mask or spot treatment if you have a blemish you've picked at (naughty!) or irritated area.

My favorite clay mask is a 50/50 mix of matcha (green tea powder) and illite (sea clay). It's actually the same recipe as a rather expensive organic skin care brand's clay mask, which I won't name. Mix with water and rinse it off once it's dry. It's anti-inflammatory, cleans the pores, heals blemishes and irritation, stimulates circulation and mildly exfoliates. It's much less drying than straight clay masks are. I promise you will love it!

For the occasional blemish (also razor bumps) I love Nelson Bach Pure And Clear Acne Gel. It's effective and non-drying and smells good (like tea tree oil but without the drying side effects).


Sunscreen:
I'm not afraid of the sun, but I also acknowledge that sun exposure accelerates skin aging and pigmentation and I want to keep my face as young and un-sun spotty as possible. Sunscreen is also required if you're using retinol/retinoids. I don't use it on my body unless I'm going to be outside for a long time- even though diet and Vitamin D supplementation has helped my skin to tolerate a LOT more sun, I'm still fair and can still burn.
It's taken me years to find a natural zinc sunscreen that didn't feel greasy on my face or break me out and wasn't ghostly white. I finally found some that I'm very happy with. I'm a big fan of Eco Logical sunscreens.
They make a facial formula that is light and totally not greasy (great for oily skin!) and even the more moisturizing body version doesn't break me out. If you have darker tone of skin, you might want to add a drop of foundation to these because they might be a just a little white on dark skin.

I'm also a fan of Pratima Neem Vetiver Sunscreen for my face, especially in the winter, when I want something moisturizing but light and not greasy. It smells lovely- like woodsy vetiver. Pratima makes a rose facial sunscreen, but it contains wheat germ oil (I'm gluten intolerant) and the neem vetiver is a much better price/ounce.


Body/Hand Moisturizer:
Again, avocado oil is my main staple here because of its great moisture retention properties (it makes skin very silky). But when I want to splurge, I like John Masters Blood Orange Vanilla Body Milk. It smells ridiculously yummy.

For hand cream, I like Weleda Pomegranate Hand Cream. It smells like sangria (people always ask me what that good smell is when I put it on) and it has the perfect texture that really stays on for awhile.


Hair Care:
I'm very low maintenance (i.e. lazy) when it comes to my hair. I wash my medium/fine oily hair every other day and I usually don't use styling products. For shampoo, my two favorites are Biotene H-24 (it makes my hair super shiny and isn't drying) and Max Green Alchemy shampoo (great for scalp conditions and also makes my hair shiny).

I usually wash only my oily roots to avoid over drying my ends, but when I do condition, I love Max Green Alchemy conditioner. It's so helpful for winter dry scalp and it doesn't make my hair go flat.

About every other week, I like to do an apple cider vinegar rinse. I combine 1 part ACV to 3 parts water and use it after shapooing (I let it sit in my hair a few minutes before rinsing). Make sure to use raw, unfiltered vinegar. The regular grocery store kind is too harsh.

To keep my scalp less oily between washings, I use some pure silk powder on it after it first dries (I also use this as my face powder). It really works! I do have to rub it in well, since I have dark hair and the powder is white.



Deodorant:

This is another one of those things that took me years to find a decent natural version. Trust me- I've tried them all (I worked in a health food store for a decade, after all;) The MOTHER of all natural deodorants is Dr. Mist. I shower every other day and I STILL smell good on day 2 with this stuff! [Edit: Seriously, this stuff works. Check out the testimonials- it's popular with the body odor support group crowd. If it works for them, I promise it'll work for you! It also heals skin issues.]
But, because I have to order Dr. Mist, I usually use my number 2 favorite: fresh lemon juice. Yes, you heard me right. It doesn't have quite the 2 day lasting power of Dr. Mist, but it lasts all day, even on hot days and through workouts. And it's cheap! So, if you've given up on natural deodorants, give these a try.


Dental Care:
I use Trader Joe's fluoride-free fennel toothpaste, which is sodium laurel sulfate free (SLS can contribute to canker sores and mouth ulcers).
I also like food grade diatomaceous earth as a tooth powder. It gets your teeth super clean. You can find it at garden and animal feed stores (just make sure it's "food grade").

Once a week or so, to whiten my teeth (I drink a lot of tea, which stains), I use Eco-Dent Extra Bright tooth powder mixed with hydrogen peroxide. I brush and then leave it in my mouth for a few minutes to do its thing. Totally works.


Lip Care:
My long-time staple lip balm is Weleda Everon. I love the rose vanilla scent. In the winter when my lips get chapped, I've found that Honey Gardens Propolis Salve is great. It has a very different texture than typical greasy salves. I also use it on my cuticles.

I've recently become a fan of Burt's Bees new(ish) tinted lip balms. Though they're not as moisturizing as I'd like, the colors are super pretty and low-key. I like Rose, which is a happy, sheer rosy pink, and Red Dahlia, which is a "your lips but better" sheer dark rose.


So, there you have it: my favorite products.
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I hope you enjoyed this information. Maybe you'll find some new favorites of your own:)

-Erin